By Josh LaBella
When the West Haven Community House was founded in 1941, founder Pauline Lang wanted to serve residents from ages 3 to 93. Patricia Stevens says the organization does their best to bring that goal to fruition.
Stevens has been the executive director of the Community House since 2005. Before that she was associate executive director for nearly 20 years. Stevens said the storied nonprofit was founded to help children and families.
“Over the past 75 years we have had a lot of configurations,” said Stevens. “But right now, we have like three general components.”
The first component, said Stevens, is school readiness. The Community House actualizes this through their head start program, which is a preschool program that serves 144 families in the city.
Stevens said the second element is children and youth services. The director said this comes in the form of before and after school programs as well as assisting children in need of remedial help in the lower functioning schools.
The third component is serving adults with intellectual disabilities. Stevens said the program is called Community Connections.
“It’s both day and residential,” said Stevens. “We have about 100 clients in the day program and 23 in our residential program.”
Stevens made a point to say that, while there are three main components of the Community House services, there are many other programs they run and subcomponents within each category. She also said the agency collaborates and works with other West Haven entities such as The West Haven Emergency Assistance Taskforce and the department of Youth and Family Services.
Stevens attended Southern Connecticut University where she studied social work. After graduating, she worked with the Red Cross in recruiting blood donors and organizing events. She worked there for 11 years and during that time said she did “a little bit of everything.”
When Stevens got pregnant with her first child, she took some time off but eventually returned to the Red Cross for another two years. She said around that time she decided the work was “a little bit too much” and applied for a job at the Community House.
“I live in West Haven,” said Stevens. “I come from West Haven. I thought, ‘how hard could it be?’ You drive down the street to go to work, whereas before I was travelling the state.”
Peter Schwartz was the executive director when she was hired. Stevens said they could not figure out the title for her job when she started but eventually settled on assistant administrator. She said in this role she did whatever needed doing.
When she became pregnant with her second child, Stevens said she decided she could not work anymore. She remained home until a year later when the woman who took her position also got pregnant.
“Peter called me and asked me to come back,” said Stevens. “I came back and I’m still here. What I really like about this agency is that the work is really diversified. It isn’t boring.”
The executive director said the organization allowed for a variety of work. She eventually got her masters degree from the University of New Haven in Community psychology. She said this degree helped her as she began to oversee many programs.
Schwartz retired in 2005 and Stevens was promoted to executive director. Stevens said she is thinking about retiring soon but wants to ensure she does not “leave a mess” when she exits the agency.
She said it is important the West Haven community understands their work – social services. According to Stevens, part of the “beauty” of the Community House is how many people do get involved in helping them.
Stevens said the work can be challenging. She said it can be hard to retain employees, who need specialized backgrounds, with the relatively low pay that comes with the job. She also said they are always searching for more grants and fundraising opportunities to keep their programs running. Additionally, Stevens said they are always looking at ways they can better serve the various communities that fall under their purview.
Stevens said she is proud of the work that they do.
“I certainly like the fact that, I believe, we have an impact on the community,” said Stevens. “I’m happy that I could be a part of that. I wasn’t here when it started. But, hopefully, it’ll be around longer than me.”
By Michael P. Walsh
Special to the Voice
The second annual International Food & Fig Festival will celebrate the city’s diverse heritage of figs.
On Sept. 14, organizers will once again feature the popular fruit on the lawn in front of Savin Rock, off Captain Thomas Boulevard.
A fig is an Asian species of flowering plant in the mulberry family that is widely grown worldwide, both for its fruit and as an ornamental plant.
The festival is set for 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and will showcase vendors buying, selling and trading figs or fig trees. Free parking is available in the parking lot of the nearby Savin Rock Conference Center, 6 Rock St.
According to organizers, one participating vendor grows 350 varieties of fig trees; another grows 200 varieties.
The multicultural event will even include a fig demonstration, fig farmers market and fig tasting, organizers said.
“It is exciting to welcome back a unique festival that celebrates West Haven culture, food and, of course, figs,” Mayor Nancy R. Rossi said.
For the second year, Dr. Charles R. Vossbrinck, an associate agricultural scientist at the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station and a self-proclaimed fig enthusiast, will speak at 11 a.m., 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. about propagating and overwintering figs in the state.
“I look forward to once again connecting with the fig hobbyists at the festival,” said Vossbrinck, a molecular biologist who is running trials of five varieties of figs in a greenhouse at the station’s 75-acre research farm, Lockwood Farm, in Hamden.
Vossbrinck is growing the fig varieties in 25-gallon self-watering pots both outdoors and in high tunnels. The pots are stored indoors during the winter.
The station, based in New Haven and operated by the state, engages in scientific research and public outreach in agriculture and related fields. Founded in 1875, it is the oldest state experiment station in the U.S.
Vossbrinck and his team are also trying to grow figs outdoors, a difficult task because of Connecticut’s cold winters and the need to extend the growing season, he said.
Rossi said the festival is taking place at no cost to the city, thanks to private donations and sponsors.
For information, contact Ruth G. Torres in the mayor’s office at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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For more information, call the office (203) 934-6397.
See part 2 here.
Mother set the telephone gently back into the cradle. She stared at the wall for a moment, and then turned to father. “Sy Swan died last night.”
“They said that he was out to dinner with friends and he just collapsed. They took him to Saint Raphael’s by ambulance, but by the time they got there, he was already gone.”
The Boy was listening from the other room, and like Mother and Father, he was stunned. He had always stopped at Sy’s popular restaurant with his grandmother while they waited for the bus to New Haven. And hadn’t he just seen Sy and his family in church on Sunday? How could this happen so quickly? He knew that old people died, but wasn’t Sy too young for that? No, there was something wrong with this. What would his kids do without their father?
Sy Swan was born in New Haven in 1912, the child of Lebanese immigrants. Upon their arrival in the States, the family lived in New York, New Haven, Waterbury and Pittsfield, Massachusetts before settling in West Haven in 1923. Young Sy attended Washington Avenue School and graduated from West Haven High School. After a few years working in the insurance industry, Sy Swan served with the U.S. Navy during WWII. Following the war, he opened Sy’s Center Spa on Campbell Avenue, and later moved to the location directly behind the Altschuler Building at the intersection of Campbell Avenue and Main Street.
Sy’s was “the” place for high school students to congregate after school for soda pop, fatherly counsel and sometimes a much-needed loan. Sy was sort of a father figure to them, and they were his delight. In 1953, over one hundred West Haven High School students gathered to give him a Christmas party. In addition, he was once commended by Superintendent of Schools Seth Haley, for his work with children.
Around town, it was well known that once Sy Swan had come across a group of children from the County Home (orphanage, then at the present site of the University of New Haven) gathered on the Green to sing Christmas Carols. It was a bitter cold day, so he invited them into Sy’s, treated everyone to hot chocolate while the group sang Christmas Carols.
Eventually, Sy Swan and his wife Virginia settled on Graham Manor Road, in a house that he built himself. He was active in the community, serving on various civic organizations as well as his church, and well-liked wherever he went. The Swans were happily raising three young children when tragedy struck.
His funeral was widely attended by young and old, the high and the humble; and later, the community gathered to create a scholarship in his honor. But after the funeral was over, Virginia Swan was left with the troubling question: how to care for a young family with her husband gone? She had to find an answer.
To be continued-
The Historical Society’s annual Holiday Fair will take place on Saturday, Nov. 17, at the Poli House, 686 Savin Ave., opposite the Green. Admission is free and the fair will run from 10-4. The traditional Giving Tree will be part of the fair along with many vendors selling traditional crafts, jewelry, books, baked goods, novelties, and other holiday gifts. For information about the event call the Society at (203) 932-0088.
Center plans trips
Join the West Haven Senior Center for the following scheduled trip: All trips leave from Savin Rock Conference Center.
MGM Springfield Casino Tuesday, Jan. 15, cost is $25 per person. Bus leaves Savin Rock Conference Center at 8:30 a.m. Trip includes $10 free slot play. Payment is due by Jan. 4. Registration information for rewards card to be completed at time of registration.
Flyers with details for this trip are available at the office West Haven Senior Center 201 Noble St., or call (203) 937-3507 for more information.
Used Book Sale
The First Congregational Church, 464 Campbell Ave., will host its monthly Used Book Sale, Clothes Closet, White Elephant and SERRV Shop on Saturday, Nov. 10, between the hours of 9 and 2.
As usual there will be a large selection of used books of all kinds, including many children’s books, items made from refugees around the world at reduced prices, gently used clothing for the whole family and household items, also reduced. Come early to shop at all these venues. (203) 933-6291.
First Lutheran Church, 52 George St, will hold its annual Harvest Fair on Saturday, Nov. 17 from 9-2. There will be vendors, baked goods, white elephant, raffles and refreshments.
Bradley Point GC
The Bradley Point Garden Club of West Haven will hold its monthly luncheon followed by a presentation on beekeeping at noon on Nov. 13 in the lower level of West Haven City Hall, 355 Main St. New members are always welcome. Call Marie at (203) 878-8428.
The annual Christmas Fest on the Green is scheduled for Saturday, Dec 1, from 9-2:30. The festival will have craft and candy vendors, delicious lunch, bake sale, kids’ crafts and trinket tree, our SERRV shop with gifts from around the world, as well as our book sale and White Elephant sale. Several trees, wreaths, and other items are being raffled off. Santa will be visiting and taking photos. Also included: a collection of food for WHEAT and toys for Second Chance Toys, an organization that partners toy drives with local organizations in need of toys. Second Chance Toys requests plastic toys that are clean and in good condition that have no small pieces (anything that will fit through a toilet paper tube). Contact First Congregational Church at (203)-933-6291 for more information.
The Christmas Festival, is looking for vendors for Saturday, Dec. 1, from 9-2:30. Handmade creations preferred. The fee is only $30 for an 8’ table, with $5 going toward our restoration fund to help repair our steeple and a portion of our sanctuary ceiling which has fallen. The festival includes crafters, light breakfast fare, delicious luncheon, book sale, SERRV Shop, Pics with Santa, and more. Contact the church at (203) 933-6291, for an application.
‘Back to Oldies’
“Back to the Oldies” makes a return to Cielo,85 Chase Lane on Saturday Nov 10 from 8 p.m. to 12:30 a.m. Charles Rosenay of Liverpool Productions is set to spin the discs while Carla Gemma Caccavale performs tickets are $20 per person and include Door Prizes,coffee and dessert. The raffle benefits MDA. For tickets call (203) 795-5473 or (203) 468-2528.
WH Garden Club
The West Haven Garden Club will hold its meeting on Thursday, Nov. 8 at the St. Louis Church meeting room, Bull Hill Road at 11:30 a.m. A luncheon will then follow and the program will be speaker Gary Zinsmeyer discussing and making Holiday Florals. Newcomers are welcome to join us. For further information call (203) 937-1674.
The West Haven Irish-American Club is hosting its annual fundraiser for the scholarship fund at Applebee’s, Orange. The pancake breakfast is scheduled for Saturday, Nov. 10, from 8-9:45 a.m. Tickets are $5 for a full breakfast, including juice and coffee. Call Charlie at (203) 934-9740 for information.
Senior Center trip
The West Haven Senior Center is offering the following trip: Foxwoods Casino Tuesday, Nov. 27, to see “Legends Concert”: Tickets cost is $25 per person for casino only or casino and Legends show, $52. Bus leaves Savin Rock Conference Center at 8:15 a.m. “Legends” features Elvis, Michael Jackson, Whitney Houston, David Bowie, George Michael and The Blues Brothers, a 90 minute fantastic show! Trip includes a bonus for everyone on the bus, a free buffet meal or $10 Food Voucher and $10 slot play. Payment due by Nov. 2.
Flyers with details for this trip are available at the office West Haven Senior Center 201 Noble St. or call (203) 937-3507 for more information.